In Good Taste: Creating Tasting Room Experiences That Inspire Brand Loyalty

By Leisa Melancon, Director, Heron Crest Marketing

Your brand is much more than a logo or slogan; it’s your business reputation. Intuit co-founder, Scott Cook, said it best; “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” Building a successful brand takes time and requires ongoing support from everyone on your staff. Every interaction with your customers provides an opportunity to build your brand and inspire brand advocacy by creating a personal connection and earning trust.

Your tasting room provides the perfect opportunity to create a setting that inspires brand loyalty and turns visitors into lifelong customers and advocates. While it’s important to focus attention on the actual tasting, the overall visitor experience must be considered.

To elevate tasting room visitor experiences you need to be tuned in to your customer’s expectations. Next to a face-to-face conversation, one of the most effective ways to gain customer insight is through social media monitoring. What feedback are you receiving on your Facebook, Twitter and other social accounts? Also check out reviews of competitor tasting room visits on social media sites, such as Yelp and Trip Advisor. What can you learn and implement from the conversations?

In a recent search of social media posts about tasting room visits, I found some common insights into customer expectations. Comments centered on atmosphere and comfort, customer service, communication and memories. Key takeaways are provided below, along with some possible tactics that can be tailored to suit your unique brand.

ATMOSPHERE & COMFORT
Crowd Control – If the tasting area is busy, direct visitors to an overflow area, such as outdoor seating, a gift shop or event room. One social media post offered praise for a winery that offered them a complimentary additional bottle tasting, due to a delay.

Food – Offer cheese and fruit trays for purchase and provide seating areas for visitors to relax and enjoy them with a bottle of wine. Several social media posts mentioned how enjoyable it was to spend time enjoying the scenery after the tasting.

Music – the right selections can support your brand and set the mood. If you’re playing CD’s, consider selling them in a gift area. Live music is popular and doesn’t have to be expensive. Consider hiring a new local musician that is trying to develop a following.

Seating – Offer seating options to accommodate the variety of needs that can occur.

Lighting – Inexpensive updates can be made to enhance lighting and set a mood that best reflects your brand. Simple displays of branches strung with tiny white lights are an attractive low cost option.

Events – What makes your winery unique? What community events could you schedule that reflect your branding? Events that support local charities promote good will and are fun, profitable and rewarding.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
Friendly, Attentive Staff – Greetings matter. Even if you’re busy, make sure visitors are acknowledged and feel welcome.

Engaging Tours – Keep the content sounding fresh and interact with guests. Make it special by sharing your unique brand story and including interesting historical details.

COMMUNICATION
Education – Share and discuss each wine, and allow for conversation. Offer guests an opportunity to sign up for emails to receive updates, newsletters, etc.

Clear, Detailed Signage – one visitor mentioned that a sign indicated the winery was open until 6pm, but when he arrived at 5:35pm, he was informed tastings were cut-off at 5:30. While the need to allow time for tastings prior to close of business is obvious, communicating specifics up front can help avoid disappointment.

MEMORIES
Gifts – Even if you don’t have space for a full gift shop, you can set-up a table or counter display to allow customers to take home keepsakes from their visit. Logo merchandise, such as winery t-shirts, are popular and help spread brand awareness. Corkscrews, coasters and other wine-related gadgets are perfect gift options for areas where space is limited.

Photos – If visitors are snapping selfies or taking photos of each other, offer to take a group photo for them. Many will share their images on social media, mentioning your winery. (#brand building!) Why not create a photo op spot? A barrel display or vine-covered trellis would be a draw. Of course you’ll want to capture images for your own social pages, as well.

Consumer insight is essential to providing your tasting room visitors the enjoyable, unique experience they seek. The more you know about your customers, the easier it is to create more personal, memorable visitor experiences that inspire brand loyalty and increase sales.

Photo of Leisa Melancon

Leisa Melancon is a Certified Marketing Consultant and Director at Heron Crest Marketing in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Heron Crest is a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in branding, content marketing and creative design. Leisa can be reached at leisa@heroncrestmarketing.com

 

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Is there Passion in Your Product?

By. Neil Williamson, President

As part of a recent client project, I came across an old Peter Drucker quote that clearly resonated with me:

Profit is not the purpose of a business, it’s the test of its validity.

All too often organizations become buried in the cost management side of production and service.  These are important but even more important is the concept of being a part of something that matters.  Employees want to believe in no only the people they work for but to have an emotional connection with the products they produce.

Following the money is important but bean counting can only carry an organization so far while passion can lift it to new heights.

Please let me explain with a quick example.

Old VineIn 1999, I was a part of the management team at Prince Michel Vineyards.  There was one vineyard block that had been significantly under performing for a number of years.  After examining the block,the viticulturist determined the vineyard had been severely impacted by crown gall, a root disease that negatively impacted the vines’ production.  The resulting yields would be too small to justify spending the labor required to keep the vineyard up.

That’s when we came upon an idea, the other staff (tasting room, accounting, sales, restaurant) would be given the opportunity to tend this one vineyard throughout the growing season.

Some on the team grumbled about being in the vineyard for a couple of hours each month but they were surprised by the things that they learned.  While they had been told about leaf pulling to open the grapes up to light and wind, the actual act made it very real.  The discussions at the tasting bar became much more lively with stories of hornets and birds nests in the vines.

When the time came to harvest, everyone was most excited to see if their work had been worth it.

The marketing department came up with a special label for the 1999 Wayside Merlot.

Upon release, the wine was very good and the staff not only sold it with great pride, they also purchased it by the case.

I tasted the last of this wine in late 2009, it was just past its prime but nothing tastes like a wine you put your blood, sweat and tears into — it was GREAT!

How does your staff feel about your products?

Is there passion in the product and the presentation?

If not, why not and what are you going to do to change it?

 

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson, the Grumpy Marketing Guy, is the President of The Trellis Group LLC a marketing consultancy focused on East Coast based wineries.  He can be reached at trellisgroup@earthlink.net

 

Labels for a New Winery — Think — But Don’t Over Think

By. Neil Williamson, GMG

smv cab francWorking with new wineries I am amazed at the amount of time and energy put into the label creative process.  While I have written about the importance of being consistent and telling a unique story, time is a limited quantity and it is critical that the other marketing elements receive equal if not greater time than your label.

Grumpy Marketing Guy Rule – For every man hour a new winery works on a label design, at LEAST two hours should be spent on other specific marketing objectives.

Please let me explain.

When a new winery opens their doors, and for a substantial time thereafter, the vast majority of sales will be through the tasting room (also known as out the cellar room door).  Wineries that understand this paradigm know that the only wines they will be competing with for attention on the shelf are their own.

A first time label must be competent and include not only the federal mandates but also a few other marketing mandates.

1.  Uniform Product Code (UPC) – While at first the new winery may not need the UPC for tracking sales and inventory, in the future they and others will.  It is much better to plan for this in your label design now rather than having to add a UPC label to bottles after the need has been established.  I once worked with a winery owner to bring a tanker of French Merlot to the United States and bottle it as a private label for a restaurant.  I unsuccessfully advocated for the UPC on the bottle, he had to hand label over 200 cases after the restaurant failed to make sales objectives.

2. Web address – This seems to be commonplace but even 15 years after the internet took over the world I still find wineries not putting their web address on their labels.

3. Physical address – while this is a part of federal labeling requirements I encourage wineries to think Wine is from a place — not a PO Box

4. Phone Number – see #3

4. Signature – People like to relate to people, I encourage wineries to allow their winemaker or owner’s signature appear on the label with some brief testimonial to wine making goals and objectives.

Other ideas –

Directions to the winery – I tend to believe the limited real estate on the label can be better used than directions.

QR Codes – I believe the jury is still out on the use (or non use) of QR codes.  If you like them use them but track if people are accessing your information from the codes.

Photos – Call me old fashoned but unless it is an unbelievable photo of the fruit that went into the bottle – I tend to steer away from photography on labels

Numbering – I have done the sequential numbering process and it is easier today than ten years ago but unless you are producing a highly allocated wine, I think the meaning is lost on many consumers.

Your label is a part of your business identity be proud of it but don’t over think it.

 

The 90 Day Wine Branding Workout

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

Brand awareness is at the core of most good marketing programs.  Whether you call it mind share, recall ability or awareness, the sales reality is people like to buy things that they have a positive feeling about.  That positive feeling may be nothing more than an faint memory that they remember the name perhaps the brand itself generates a positive tone.  Most of the wineries I talk to have a basic understanding of branding, often they get the set up right but fail in the follow through.

The big question is why?

Much like establishing and maintaining a vineyard, a brand requires a significant commitment to make it successful.

These days branding can include not only name generation, label design, signage, public relations, e-mail, advertising and other sponsorship supports but also includes social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vine, Yelp and whatever is next.  The good news is that these are very learnable skills the bad news is they are time consuming without direct return on investment.

Just as you would establish a spray program in the vineyard, the best tool for starting your branding efforts is an old fashion calendar.

If your goal is increased visits to your retail room, look at your busiest month; what would it do to your bottom line if you doubled visitation that month?  Do you have the infrastructure (and the wine) to support such visitation and sales?  If yes this will be our target month.  If not, your goal should be to extend the month to eight weeks (Sept-ober).

For this example we will use a winery event as our foundation event and build a 90 day branding calendar based off that date.

For scheduled social media posts, I prefer to create each account’s own rhythm with posts.  I also encourage my clients to link their social media accounts so that when one is updated they all are updated (tweetdeck is a popular tool for this).  I usually schedule updates for the start of the day so that if something topical comes up I can post it later in the day and not upset the built in rhythm of posts.

I often create a type of post for each day in addition to Wine Wednesday, I may include a wine quote on Monday, a vineyard update on Tuesday (during the growing season), a cellar update on Thursday and a wine recommendation with pairing on Friday.  Don’t forget the power of images.  People love to feel like they know where their wine is coming from and who is behind it.  Tell the story of your winery through these methods each and every week.

With your scheduled posts entered and ready to rollout, there is a need for earned media (publicity that you don’t pay for).  As a marketer, I encourage clients to be strategic in their anniversaries.  If your winemaker has been with you for seven years, schedule a special event in the retail room during your busiest month (it really doesn’t matter that he was hired in February seven years ago).

Coordinate your wine releases with media releases and special tastings in the retail room.  Well written media releases from good sources become content for blogs and newspapers.  I generally advise sending one media release a month.  While I have broken this rule when the event is newsy enough, it is a good rule of thumb.

The branding schedule therefore needs three media releases going out Day 1, Day 31, Day 61.

Anytime you send a media release, rewrite it to be appropriate to be a newsletter to your e-mail list. Email recipients love that they got the news as an insider before it appeared in the paper.

I also work to schedule local radio interviews starting Day 61 through to the event.  Owners, vineyard managers, tasting room manager and winemaker all make interesting spokespeople (but require some level of spokesperson training).  If the foundational event is newsworthy I would also include a media advisory that goes out via e-mail to your media list on Day 83 and on Day 89.

The foundational event also needs some paid advertising support.  In terms of media buys, I tend to shy away from television and glossy magazines as I do not see them delivering the value for the buy right now.  I like local radio and local newspapers.  I also have had good success with targeted Facebook advertising.

Before you get to Day 100, draft a post mortem memo highlighting all the things that went well and went poorly.  Include any discernable data regarding how guests learned of the event.

Looking over this list it is clear why many wineries fall short on their wine branding efforts — it is a great deal of work.

The benefits of properly feeding and nurturing a wine brand is the same as such efforts in the vineyard and equally worth the time.

Neil Williamson

Neil Williamson, the Grumpy Marketing Guy, is the President of The Trellis Group LLC a marketing consultancy focused on East Coast based wineries.  He can be reached at trellisgroup@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I am Sweet on Your Wine Portfolio

By. Neil Williamson, The Grumpy Marketing Guy

Imagine walking into a home improvement store and all of the hardware and tools were only available in metric sizes.  In this example it is clear the home supply store is ignoring a significant potential market that demands US/Imperial tools.  Now look at your wine portfolio, does it reflect consumer demand or the owner’s personal preferences.

Often when I am meeting with new winery owners they have a limited scope of their wine portfolio.  In every case, I ask, beg, cajole them to include at least one “sweet” wine.    Interestingly, when clients take this advice, it almost always becomes their best seller.   Why?  As your winery will likely offer a number of dry wines for the roughly 50% of the wine drinking public that prefers a dry wine and you force the sweet wine drinker to choose the one wine you have made for that population cohort.

Recently my vision on this was tested by my philosophical position regarding be true to your identity. I was chatting up a Virginia winery owner about his vision for his new wine portfolio.  He did not like sweet wines but recognized the consumer demand for such product, his decision was not to make a wine that he would not drink but to make it at the far edge of his sweetness tolerance.  The resulting 1% residual sugar wine is consistent with his winery vision (and palate) while providing a sweeter wine for that percentage  of the wine consuming public that only buys sweet wines.

Master of Wine Tim Hanni (who spoke at a number of Virginia Wineries Association seminars this year) has written a treatise on Why Wineries Owe Sweet Wine Drinkers and Apology.  Hanni draws on recent research indicating that people are genetically predisposed to prefer sweeter wines based on the arrangement of their taste buds on their tongue.

In the end your wine portfolio should represent not only who you are but also who your customers are; if you only make wine you like, you may ignore significant potential consumers and sales!

That’s why I am sweet on your wine portfolio!

Respectfully Submitted,

GMG

Photo Credit: Kobalt-USA

Why Wineries Should Charge Their Highest Retail Price in the Tasting Room

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

Over the past couple of years there has been a great discussion about where wines in tasting rooms should be priced.  There are some who believe the tasting room is like a “factory outlet” store and should have the lowest prices anywhere.  Based on the title of this post you can see that I fall in a different camp.

If you have your wines in distribution, whether you are distributing them yourself or not, the retailers are a primary sales channel.  The retailers are your partners.  Why would you undercut your partners?

Please let me explain.

The shop owner perspective – When you, or your distributor attempt to place the wine with a wine shop (or grocery chain) price will be a key issue.  If you are a local winery you may have a leg up on getting attention but one of the first questions will be “What do you sell it for at the winery”.  In the shop owner discussion you are competing with every other wine that is available in distribution.  If you are 5 miles away and selling the wine $3 cheaper than he/she can, why should you get a placement in the shop?

The customer perspective – In the retail shop, your wine must compete with all the other wine in the establishment.  If  a customer has been a guest at your winery and purchased your Chardonnay for $21 and sees it at their “regular” wine shop at $17.99, they perceive increased value, as they enjoyed the Chardonnay at $21.

The Grumpy Marketing Guy perspective –  Wine purchased at the winery provides the winery three profit margins (producer, distributor, retail).  If we accept that guests that visit the winery like wine (not a big leap) and regularly shop for wine somewhere other than the winery, then capturing all three profit margins maintains your pricing integrity in all channels.  In addition, it helps build credibility with your retail partners.

It is important to recognizing winery guests are wine lovers who have a variety of only your wines to choose from during their visit but its all your wine.

Important exceptions

  • Multiple bottle/Case discounts – just as your retail partners have such discounts you should as well usually at 3, 6 and 12 bottle increments.
  • Inventory Issues – there are times when a wine does not move in the market and you have a significant inventory, creating a special price for such wines as needed is a great idea.
  • Festival Pricing – I encourage wineries to play with their pricing at festivals.  If you are sold out of a wine at the last festival, bump it up a $1 a bottle see if it still sells out.  If something was a slow mover drop the price $2 as a festival special.

Wine prices at the winery should be designed to recognize the significant capital costs you have in the winery and to capture the maximum revenue the market will bear.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, GMG

Photo Credit: Winecountry.it

 

How Mystery Shoppers Can Improve Your Business

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

The term ‘Mystery Shopper” has been around for at least twenty years. The concept behind mystery shopping is rather simple; how do your employees (or you) honestly interact with customers.  While there are companies that do mystery shopping for a fee, I have found some of the best mystery shoppers are friends of mine who are not known to the client or the client staff.

Doesn’t the use of a mystery shopper mean you don’t trust your staff?  No.  Frankly when I have presented the results from the Mystery Shoppers staff are often horrified at the manner in which their actions were perceived.   With the advancement of Facebook, Twitter and Yelp! having a consistent customer engagement strategy is critical.  There are many individuals who will spend a great deal of time blogging about their experience in your establishment.  These too are teaching moments; but I’d rather control the discussion with a mystery shopper program.

How to build the shopper program — with your staff.  No one likes surprises so go over the goals of your customer engagement program with the staff and see if they agree.  If not, revise the metrics of the program.

Here are a few sample metrics based on a winery tasting room setting:

Were you greeted on arrival in the tasting room?

Were you informed of the tasting fee prior to tasting?

During the tasting did the staff seem knowledgeable about the wines?

Were you given time to taste each wine?

Did the staff provide the history of the winery?

Were you informed of upcoming events?

Were you asked how you heard about the winery?

Did the tasting staff seem interested in your wine journey?

After tasting were you given the opportunity to retaste?

Did the staff ask for your wine order?

In preparing your wine order did the staff confirm with you the wines before placing in the case/box?

Were you thanked for your purchase?

Was your checkout handled efficiently?

Was the tasting room busy?

Was the tasting room adequately staffed?

Overall how would you rate your visit (1-10 scale)?

What could be improved?

Once you and your staff determine the metrics to be used and you let them know you will be using a mystery shopper, you will see improvement in your customer engagement.  I usually bring in the mystery shopper 2 weeks after the staff has signed off on the metrics.

After the mystery shopper files their report (usually an e-mail with the questions above answered and other comments i.e. tasting room staff wearing low cut blouse, taking phone calls, kids running in tasting room, etc.)  I take the results to the tasting room manager and discuss in a morning meeting and then chat with all the associates over lunch.

This team methodology allows the manager to have an opportunity to determine how to best use the information to generate better customer engagement.  Usually better customer engagement results in increased sales.  And really isn’t that what marketing is all about.

Respectfully Submitted,

GMG

Image Credit: Truliant Federal Credit Union